Q: Have you noticed the use of the inflated “thank you so much”? To me, it has the opposite effect of a simple “thank you.” It sounds condescending. And what’s worse, it has insinuated itself into my speech! Please let me know that I’m not the only one bothered by this.
A: You’re not the only one bothered by “thank you so much,” though most of the botherees seem to think the expression isn’t quite as legit as “thank you very much.”
As it turns out, grateful people have been thanking one another “so much” since the 1800s and “very much” since the 1600s, while plain old “thank you” has been around since the 1400s.
The two of us generally use “thank you” or “thanks,” but we sometimes add “so much” or “very much” or “a lot” or “a heap” or “a million” or “a bunch.”
We don’t think it’s condescending to add a couple of grace notes to our thanking. It may be a bit wordy, but we don’t see anything wrong with going the extra word or two.
And we don’t see any particular difference in meaning between “thank you so much” and “thank you very much.”
The use of “thank you very much” has risen pretty steadily over the last century, according to a search using Google’s Ngram Viewer.
The use of “thank you so much” rose steadily until World War II, then fell during the postwar years. But it’s been rising again over the last four decades, and you’re probably noticing the expression because of its recent increase in popularity.
The earliest example of “thank you very much” that we’ve been able to find is from a 1650 letter by James Usher, the Archbishop of Armagh: “I thank you very much for your large Narrative of the proceedings in the Controversy touching Grace and Free-will.”
(The cleric’s name is sometimes spelled Ussher—he referred to himself in Latin as Jacobus Usserius.)
The earliest example we’ve found for “thank you so much” is from My Daughter Elinor, an 1869 novel by Frank Lee Benedict: “I thank you so much. I am sorry to distress you.”
We’ve written several posts about “thank you,” including one in 2013 that discusses the history of the phrase.
As we said then, “thank you” itself showed up in Middle English as a short form of the expression “I thank you.”
The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Why I Can’t Be a Nun, a poem from the 1400s that criticizes religious institutions:
“ ‘Thanke yow, lady,’ quod I than. ‘And thereof hertely I yow pray.’ ” (We’ve expanded the citation.)